Far from the Madding Crowd drove me mad

madding crowdCenturies ago, when I was in Grade 9, I was told to read Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd for English class. I never did finish reading it. I hated it – that is, I hated the bits I managed to get through- even though I loved English class. The story seemed dense, impenetrable and boring. I didn’t do at all well in the exam and I swore I would never again pick up a novel by Thomas Hardy.

Bit of a shame, really. Whatever you think of Hardy’s novels; the simple fact is that the teacher provided no help or guidance to prevent me, as a 15 year-old from believing a) I was not a very good reader, or b) Thomas Hardy was not a very good writer. Turns out neither is true.

Oh, there was one other outcome. It did allow me, throughout subsequent years, to feel superior when someone referred to the book’s title as Far from the Maddening Crowd!

Last November, we lived for 3 weeks in Dorset in southern England, which happens to be – yes, you guessed it – Thomas Hardy territory. That, combined with a slightly broader literary awareness gained over the decades of reading I have done since finishing high school prompted me to pull down my copy of Madding Crowd, blow the dust off it, and give it another go.

I really enjoyed it. Sure, we are now in a different century and fiction is not written that way anymore; but, I now appreciate Hardy’s skill as a writer and his depth of perception as a human being.

Here are just a few of my favourite ‘one-liners’ from Far from the Madding Crowd:

Love is a possible strength in an actual weakness.

The more emphatic the renunciation the less absolute its character.

She moved between them as a chaise between carts, was heard after them as a romance after sermons, was felt among them like a breeze among furnaces.

…smiled one of his bitter smiles, dragging all the flesh of his forehead into a corrugated heap in the centre.

…meanwhile retained several marks of despair upon his face, to imply that they would be required for use again directly he should go on speaking.

…entered, bearing his one tooth before him.

…his face showed that he was now living outside his defences for the first time, and with a fearful sense of exposure.

Realities then returned upon him like the pain of a wound received in an excitement which eclipses it.

There are accents in the eye which are not on the tongue, and more tales can come from pale lips than can enter an ear.

…love, though added emotion, is subtracted capacity.

He could be one thing and seem another. He could speak of love and think of dinner; call on the husband to look at the wife; be eager to pay and intend to owe.

homely Oak, whose defects were patent to the blindest, and whose virtues were as metals in a mine.

During the effort, each breath of the woman went into the air as if never to return again.

There are many more, but that will do for now. Got a favourite from any of the above?

Thomas Hardy, I thank you. Grade 9 English teacher, I do not.

ps. I could probably pass that exam now!

pps. I have just bought a beautiful, second-hand, hard-bound copy of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. I’ll have a go at that after I finish Freudenberg’s biography of Gough Whitlam, A Certain Grandeur. Change of pace.

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~ by Garry on January 3, 2013.

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